This story highlights the far reaches of the legalized discrimination and shaming stigma attached to those with criminal records. The story comes to us from the same community college professor that wrote me about Carly, and who ministers to her students with a wide-eyed and big-hearted compassion. Right where she is. These issues find her. And she responds with love and mercy. Thank you for your leadership in compassionate action!
“I have another sad story about discrimination against people with criminal convictions. A few years ago in a developmental class, I had a student with Asperger’s syndrome who qualified to have a student note taker. Note takers are paid minimum wage and we are encouraged to find another student in the classroom to take notes. I asked Ryan, a Hispanic man in his early 30s, because he was more mature than the other students (some of whom tended to giggle at the odd things the student with Asperger’s would say) and he never missed class, was very diligent and dependable in turning in his work. Ryan agreed to be the note taker and went to Student Services to fill out the paperwork. He came back the next day and was obviously nervous. He said, “Professor, I don’t want you to think less of me; I don’t want you to think differently about me . . . “
It turns out that many years ago, our community college adopted a policy that it would not hire anyone with a criminal record. I don’t know if it happened before I came here or if I just wasn’t aware of it at the time, but another teacher told me she actively lobbied administration not to adopt such a policy because so many of our students have been incarcerated. So even though the two young men were in the same class together, our community college could not hire the one who had a drug conviction from many years ago to take notes for the other student. I was able to tell the young man that my niece’s husband also had a drug conviction and served time in prison, so I understood that his past didn’t define who he is now . . . But it was just pitiful. He wasn’t exactly wringing his hand, but he was rubbing his forearm with one hand as he talked to me and tears threatened to form in his eyes several times. His wife had stuck by him and they have three children. He had written a personal narrative about the best thing in his life being his wife and ended that waking up beside her each morning was a privilege he didn’t think could get any better until their boys ran in the room and jumped in bed with them as they were all laughing and talking together. He wrote that before he had to tell me about the drug conviction.
Even though he couldn’t get paid, he sat by the young man with Asperger’s every class period, helped keep him on the right page in the textbook, took notes for him and gave them to him at the end of every class, etc. He was the kind of student who is a joy. I’m happy to say he did successfully complete both his developmental writing and reading classes. I haven’t seen him since, but pray good things for him.
When I read the story about your Lenten decision to wear orange, I thought about sending it to our administrators with a request that they revisit the policy to refuse to hire anyone with a criminal record. I can see that the community college wouldn’t want to match vulnerable learning disabled students with someone who has a violent history or sexual criminal behavior; but a minor drug conviction from years ago, with a sentence fully served, doesn’t warrant the kind of discrimination imposed on these students. I’ve saved the article, but I haven’t yet contacted administration.”
What grace Ryan demonstrates! What compassionate and responsive action this teacher shares with us! May we have the courage to follow in their steps…